It was nearly 20 years ago that Jeff Bridges set out to adapt Lois Lowry’s then recently published The Giver for the big screen. At the time, Bridges planned to direct the film and have his own father, Lloyd Bridges, play the title character. Now, having aged into the part himself, he’s taking on the role for director Phillip Noyce’s adaptation of the acclaimed novel. To promote the film, Bridges joined co-stars Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush, producer Nikki Silver and Lowry herself on Comic-Con International’s Hall H stage today for a look at the August 15 release.
The panel began with a significantly extended trailer, revealing that, as it is described as being in the novel, we’ll see a black and white world transition into color as Thwaites’ Jonas begins to realize exactly how much humanity has sacrificed for its “perfection.”
Lowry recalled the origins of the novel, claiming that she never thought of it as a dystopia. Instead, she created a character and then that character’s world and only later did that world reveal itself as something negative. She also explained the history of the first edition cover, which bore the image of an elder man with a long beard. That man, she says, is Carl Gustaf Nelson, an artist that Lowry photographed in her earlier career as a photojournalist. The image had made an impact on her son, who asked when he saw it, “Is that Moses?”
Lowry, who corresponded with Nelson, told him about that and, thereafter, he would sign all his letters “Moses.” Unfortunately, Nelson passed away in 1988 and never got to see himself become the face of The Giver.
The biggest change from the original novel, Lowry explained, involves Meryl Streep’s Chief Elder. The character’s role has been expanded quite a bit for the film, but Lowry says she would rewrite the book to be more like the film if she could, saying that Streep delivers an incredible antagonist that manages to not be a villain, per se. Instead, the Elder becomes someone who simply sees the world from a very different perspective.
“I always try to remember that when people write me letters saying, ‘Jesus hates you!’” Lowry says. “These are just people who are trying to protect their children.”
Surprisingly, Streep and Bridges have never worked together before, although the pair know one another quite well.
“Meryl’s like a soccer mom,” Bridges laughed when asked how he met Streep. “Our kids played soccer together!”
The other significant change from the novel is in the characters’ ages. Thwaites and Rush are a bit older than the novel’s 12-year-old protagonists, but the actor says that he felt it was important because it means that the relationship between Jonas and Fiona can be more serious and ultimately provide more at stake. Lowry says she was uncomfortable with the change initially, but warmed to it when she saw the final film.
The author was also particularly excited about a montage that Noyce developed to represent memories. She thought it was nearly perfect when she saw it, but offered one final contribution that can be seen in the final film: “a scene from the world of Islam.”
It’s possible that, should the film be a success, Lowry’s sequels might follow to the big screen, although she’s mostly focused on the first one at the moment with her and Bridges both expressing hope that the film manages to challenge audiences with the story’s simple but powerful message.
“A lot of the richness in life comes out of struggling and suffering,” Bridges put it.
“Once they’ve obliterated the painful part of life,” said Lowry, “There’s not much left.”
Also starring Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift, The Giver hits theaters on August 15.